Around the turn of the millennium, PG-13 horror movies were all the craze. We had The Sixth Sense, The Ring, The Grudge, The Others, Signs, White Noise and so on. Before that era, Tremors was one of the few PG-13 horror titles on the market. Yes, there are some scattered examples of other ones, such as Critters, but they were few and far between, plus less likely to have been made with the PG-13 rating as a goal. The issue many horror fans had at the time PG-13 horror movies came out was a legitimate one: the movies were being made into PG-13 titles for marketing purposes. It’s great when horror films hit the mainstream and get appreciation, but not when it comes at the expense of the craft. The good part is we’re now able to make dark films without them necessarily getting tossed in with the R-rated gore fests the genre is known for. R-rated works can be cerebral, even with the gore, but PG-13 ones must have adequate suspense and writing to be successful in the long-term. Shock factor isn't enough.
Believe it or not, we've hit a golden age for the genre. Aside from having Insidious, Cabin in the Woods, Zombieland and all that jazz, the culture has truly evolved. There is value to horror being a sub-genre, as it invokes passionate film making, but it’s ability to get into theaters makes it easier for creators to afford to do what they love for a living.
We’ve been getting new horror icons as of late, including Zack Snyder and James Wan. Their names are nothing short of John Carpenter’s or Wes Craven’s, having already made some masterpieces. That and they’re living in world with bigger economic options. It used to be simply having a dark tone meant an R rating, regardless of content. Consider The Good Son, Army of Darkness, The Frighteners and so on. Ratings are still sometimes unfair, like the R rating The Conjuring got, but there are better options now. If a filmmaker wants a PG-13, cuts can be made for theaters, then an uncut version can be released on home video without protest, since unrated cuts have now become acceptable across essentially all retailers.
Just over ten years ago, unrated cuts were rare to stumble across and usually only happened when NC-17 ratings were surrendered. Unrated cuts now allow for productions to sit between ratings. Filmmakers shouldn't have to change their content to fit a ratings system. If it works best to put in a shocking bit of gore in an otherwise clean movie, since it gets the right amount of impact, is it fair to have to cut it to get a PG-13 and hence higher box office revenues? Perhaps not, but now the version of a film that goes down in history will be the original cut, which is typically what’s in stores. That and the disc may include both versions, as to make it watchable for the prude in the family!
Which PG-13 horror flick are you looking forward to most?
Matthew Scott Surprenant's blog and bookstore can be found at matthewscottauthor.wordpress.com